arthritis video game workout

Add Video Games to Your Arthritis Workout Plan

Think video games are just for kids and couch potatoes? Think again. Some games incorporate exercise, getting players up and moving. Called “exergaming,” this trend is on the rise in homes, gyms, physical therapy offices and rehabilitation centers.

Made popular by the Nintendo Wii, these interactive games use a handheld controller or sensors to track your body’s movement. That puts you in the game: You swing your arm to hit a baseball, jab in a boxing match or dance to earn points.

Scoring Benefits

“Exergaming is a fun way to get up and moving,” says Rachel Proffitt, an occupational therapist and assistant professor at the University of Missouri, in Columbia. “Exergames can improve strength and range of motion.”

Exergaming counts as moderate physical activity, according to a study published in 2014 in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health. Scientists found that 30 minutes of exergaming burned 226 calories, roughly the same as walking briskly.

Plus, she says, “For people with arthritis, it can also take their mind off of their joint pain.” In fact, studies show these games have particular benefits for people with chronic conditions, such as arthritis and fibromyalgia. In a study published in 2017 in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, women with fibromyalgia had less pain, stiffness and anxiety after playing exergames two hours a week for two months.

Tune In Before You Plug In

Certain games can be risky for people with arthritis. “Some of the movements may be too broad for your range of motion,” says Maura Daly Iversen, a physical therapist and associate dean of clinical and rehabilitation programs at Northeastern University in Boston. And games that require a lot of repetition can lead to overuse injuries. Before you give it a go, ask your doctor or physical therapist if the moves are safe for your joints.

Want to try it? A number of systems, including the Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360 Kinect and PlayStation Move, provide games you can try at home, and certain gyms, fitness studios, community centers and physical therapy offices offer exergaming classes.


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